The pressure on Barnsley boss Lee Johnson will continue after they slumped to an EIGHTH consecutive league defeat against Port Vale on Saturday, but the former Oldham chief was left to curse his luck after a gutsy effort from his side.
The Valiants made sure that the Reds’ worst run of league reverses since 1959 was extended thanks to goals either side of half-time, but the visitors were undoubtedly second-best on the day.
Johnson’s men slipped a place to 23rd in the Sky Bet League One after yet another potentially damaging defeat, but the manager has at least taken some heart from the Oakwell faithful, many of whom he believes are still backing him.
Johnson said: “The fans have been great. Personally I’ve had minimal stick and I do appreciate that. They’re an educated bunch here, and they do want us to succeed.
“I think the fans understand the plan, and though we have failed in a couple of parts of that plan, we have also been unfortunate on numerous occasions.
“We have got a decent base and solidness to work from.
“It has been a really poor run, but we’ve been competing in every game and so I’d ask them to stick with us. Performances like Saturday’s give me hope and strength that we can turn the situation around. Everyone can see that the players and playing for me, and vice versa.
“We’ve got the tools in there, we’ve got the passion in the squad, but we also need that first goal.
“It would be handy to get that in a couple of games because when you’re chasing a game it allows the opposition to be a little more set and a bit more solid.
“But, yes, of course we can get out of this.
“We’re back in on Monday and we’ll prepare well all week for Saturday at Oldham.
Boss Johnson made a couple of alterations to his starting line-up on the back of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win again York in midweek.
Reece Wabara was suspended after accumulating five bookings, so his place in the defence was taken by youngster James Bree.
Further forward, Marley Watkins was given the nod to start alongside Ivan Toney, at Simeon Jackson’s expense.
The Reds were certainly out of luck in the first half at a wet and miserable Oakwell, one which the hosts dominated, only to go in at the interval behind.
Vale, themselves stuttering in recent weeks, struck with their only note-worthy effort of the first 45 minutes.
Michael O’Connor flung in a cross from the right flank and Ajay Leitch-Smith leapt highest to head home his first goal of the season.
It was a cruel blow for Barnsley , who had kept Vale ‘keeper Jak Alnwick extremely busy before the goal as Adam Hammill, George Smith and Ivan Toney were among those to be thwarted.
To rub salt in the wound, Vale then struck an ultimately killer second goal just two minutes after the restart.
This time Adam Yates rolled the ball coolly to Sam Foley, who drilled his fourth goal of the season high into the roof of the net, leaving Barnsley facing an uphill task.
Despite the frustrations of the home fans increasing, the Reds did, gamely, stick to that task, trying desperately to find a way to claw themselves back into contention.
Conor Hourihane fired wide from 10 yards when it looked easier to score, while Lewin Nyatanga glanced a header a whisker wide.
Sub Sam Winnall did finally nab the Reds a lifeline with 12 minutes to go.
After Bree’s cross wasn’t cleared by an increasingly under-pressure Vale defence, Winnall side-footed home clinically from eight yards.
Hourihane twice went close to grabbing a leveller as the frantic Reds piled on that pressure in the closing minutes, but somehow Vale hung on to condemn Johnson to yet another frustrating defeat.
“We won every statistic apart from the most important one,” groaned Johnson.
“I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve this defeat, whether we need to get this place exorcised or not, but we definitely didn’t deserve to lose. Two shots against us have been the two goals, it’s so disappointing, but I think the fans understood that the players are continuing to give their all.
“We’ve just got to keep going I guess. As long as we stick to our values and our principles we can still go on a run.”
The Reds have been drawn away at League One rivals Wigan Athletic in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern area semi-final.
The tie will be played during the week commencing December 7.
Barnsley 1 (Winnall 78)
Port Vale 2 (Leitch-Smith 40, Foley 47)
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies 6; Bree 6, Mawson 5, Nyatanga 6, G Smith 5; Isgrove 5 (M Smith 61, 5), Pearson 7, Hourihane 7, Hammill 6; Toney 5 (Winnall 55, 7), Watkins 6.Subs not used: Townsend, Jackson, Roberts, Abbott, Maris.
GOAL: Winnall 78.
BOOKED: Hourihane (34), Watkins (90).
PORT VALE (4-4-2): Alnwick 7; Yates 6, McGivern 7, Duffy 6, Dickinson 7; Moore 5, O’Connor 8, Grant 7, Foley 7 (Daniel 80, 5); Leitch-Smith 7 (Ikpeazu 68, 5), Dodds 5.Subs not used: Neal, Streete, Birchall, Hooper, Kelly.
GOALS: Leitch-Smith 40, Foley 47.
REF: Tony Harrington (Cleveland).